“Cooking with wine is a balancing act that is well worth the exploration,” says wine expert Claudia Perry, the former wine and spirits columnist for the Star Ledger newspaper in Newark, N.J., and Uncorked, a digital wine magazine. The African-American journalist adds one piece of advice when using wine in recipes. “Under no circumstances cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink,” she says, adding, “Whether you’re enhancing robust or delicate flavors with wine additions, the quality of the wine you use matters.” And what about substitutions for those who can’t cook with wine for medical or personal reasons? “Once again, think balance,” says Perry. With sweet or savory dishes, use fruit juice as a wine substitute carefully. Add grape, cranberry, apple or even pomegranate juice, depending on the recipe. Just make sure the juice is unsweetened.
Fennel-Crusted Grouper | Makes 8 servings
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1 teaspoon each, dried: dill weed, thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 pounds grouper fillets
2 tablespoons each: olive oil, dry white wine
Toast fennel seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Remove from skillet to avoid over-toasting. Crush seeds in a small bowl with mortar and pestle or crush with a rolling pin. Mix with dill, thyme, salt and pepper. Rub spice mixture evenly on both sides of fillets. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fillets. Cook, turning once, until lightly browned on each side, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Stir in white wine; cook 1 minute. Transfer to a platter; drizzle any remaining skillet drippings over fish.
Grapes in Port Wine Sauce | Makes 6 servings
1 cup port wine
1 strip (2-inch-by-1/2-inch) orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon honey
1 pound red or black grapes, stemmed,
halved, about 3 cups
Place the wine, orange peel, cinnamon stick and honey in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the honey is dissolved. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the orange peel and cinnamon stick with a slotted spoon; discard. Stir in the grapes. Allow to sit, stirring occasionally, for at least one hour (or up to two hours) at room temperature or refrigerate, covered, up to three days. Serve in a small dish on its own, with biscotti or over plain, low-fat Greek yogurt or vanilla frozen yogurt.
Photos: (Grouper) McCormick Spices
(Grapes) California Table Grape Commission